Will solar panels work if the power goes out?

A lot of people are interested in solar power these days. It’s a great way to save money on your electric bill, and it’s also environmentally friendly. But one of the most common questions we get asked is, “will my solar panels work if the power goes out?” Let’s find out!

In most grid-tied solar scenarios (which is by far the most common form of residential solar installation in the US), the solar inverter depends on a small amount of power from the grid in order to function. Because central inverters are powered and operated by energy from the grid, they will not work if the power goes out. There are exceptions to this, which I will detail below. This means during a power outage, your grid-tied solar panel system will be deactivated. You may be wondering, “well this is pretty stupid, why is this the case?”

The Reason

The reason most grid tied systems will not operate during a power outage is due to safety. Imagine a scenario in which each house in your neighborhood of 100 homes has its own grid tied photovoltaic system sending power back to the grid. Suddenly the power goes out throughout the entire neighborhood and now it is the duty of our brave linemen to come and fix the outage, where they will be working on the lines right outside your front door. Now imagine that each home’s solar system is still producing energy and sending high voltage energy back to those lines. If a linemen were to cut or begin working on a line they thought was unenergized, the amount of electricity being back-fed by all of those solar systems could injure or potentially kill the linemen.

The Solution

For this reason, grid-tied solar systems do not continue to operate and back-feed energy to the grid during an outage. While this is the case, the problem can be solved in two primary ways:

  1. Micro grid formation
  2. Energy storage / battery backup (also a micro grid)

A micro grid is essentially a localized, isolated electrical grid, confined to a singular manageable entity. In relation to your home, a micro grid isolates your home’s electrical circuitry from the utility grid. This allows the energy storage system to operate in the event the utility grid goes down. The beauty of solar and battery backup is it has the ability to act as fully independent, clean energy power plant for your home.

Fortunately, one of the industry leading solar energy technology companies, Enphase Energy Inc., has developed a true solar-only home backup system, which forms a micro grid utilizing only power produced by the solar modules. Enphase has coined this technology “sunlight backup”. The formation of a micro grid isolates the solar energy to a closed circuit: your home. In the scenario of a grid outage, an automatic transfer switch converts your home from a traditional grid-tied electrical system to a localized micro grid. This technology allows smaller home circuits and appliances to be powered directly by the energy produced by solar panels at any given time, even without the presence of a battery. Of course, this solution will only be useful when the sun is shining, if sunlight backup is used without the presence of a battery.

Battery backup is the most capable solution when it comes to having abundant energy when the grid goes down. Battery backup systems also form a micro grid. Batteries range widely in total output and can potentially operate all of your home’s circuits, with the exception of your AC unit and other demand heavy appliances, in some cases. The best part about the combo is the fact that the solar continues to recharge your batteries, day after day, independent from any other source of energy. Now that is true sustainability in every sense of the word.

Solar Power and Natural Disasters

One of the great things about solar power is that it can be a lifesaver during a natural disaster. If a hurricane knocks out power to your neighborhood, your solar panel system will keep working as long as it is capable of micro grid formation. Since solar panels don’t need any fuel to generate electricity, they’ll keep working even if gas and other fuels are in short supply. That means you’ll have a reliable source of power when you need it most, independent from fluctuating and often rising gas prices.

So if you’re looking for a way to keep your lights on during a power outage, or you want to be prepared for a natural disaster, consider installing a micro grid capable solar panel system. It’s a great investment for your home, and it could end up being a lifesaver.

Solar panels are a great way to generate electricity, but one of the most common questions we get asked is whether or not they will work if the power goes out. The answer of course is yes and no. Solar panels will continue to generate electricity as long as there’s sunlight, but only if the system is capable of producing a micro grid or is paired with battery backup. That means that during a power outage, in the above scenario, your solar panel system will be one of the only sources of electricity available. So if you’re considering installing a solar panel system, consider if adding a battery or sunlight backup is worth it for you.

Reliable Solar Electricity

So there you have it! If you’ve got a grid-tied solar panel system, it probably won’t do you much good during a power outage. However, if you’ve got an off-grid system, then you’re all set! No matter what Mother Nature throws at you, your off-grid solar panel system will be there to keep the lights on.